I can’t figure out Florida. It confuses me somehow. My hotel was on the Interstate, which I wanted to leave, but I had gotten a late start. I felt tired so I slept in, had a banana and a cup of coffee for breakfast at a gas station, filled up and drove onto the on ramp towards Orlando. It was the path of least resistance. I’d strike out into rural Florida later.
You can get lulled almost to sleep on the Interstate. There’s not much new to look at out there. It’s the same hotels, restaurants, and gas stations on the signs along the highway. I didn’t play any music, just zoned out and drove. It’s what I imagine truck drivers do, just keep the wheels turning, put in the time, and get closer to home. In this case, I was going to be with my wife and family at the end of the day.
Before I knew it I was heading towards Orlando. I successfully avoided Orlando as an American parent. I told my kids I could take them to Mexico or Guatemala for more days than it would cost to spend four days at Disney World. It worked. I took both my kids on I Care missions, where they helped people and saw the world as it exists outside their own country, and never had to stand in line for Space Mountain or any of the other rides. For that I’ve always felt blessed.
Orlando is huge. The Buick and I were on Interstate 4, and I swear I couldn’t get out of that town. And everything looked new. That’s what confuses me about Florida. What did it used to be? Do they tear down every building after thirty years? Is this all new development?
My Dad, whose brother lived in Florida, and who visited there only once that I know of, for my Uncle’s funeral, didn’t care much for the Sunshine State. He said it was all sand and swamp. Central Illinois farmers get very snobby about their moisture holding black dirt. He used to say that contractors would pile five concrete blocks, one on top of the other, on a potential building site in Florida, go for lunch, and if when they came back four blocks were still visible, they’d build a house there. Not only that, but by the end of the month there would be a whole town built up around that one house. He tended to exaggerate, my Dad, but he may have been on to something about Florida. There is development, and there are lakes and swamp, and I have yet to determine if there is anything else. But I’ve only passed through quickly.
After I got past Orlando, and Kissimmee, no easy task, I stopped at a Wendy’s near Loughman. I went inside, had a lemonade, and studied my Atlas. I was disturbingly close to Tampa, my real destination being Oldsmar tucked inside Tampa somewhere. Florida is narrow. You can’t drive far before you’re on the other side. My last good chance to drive somewhere outside a metropolitan area was to take Route 27 up to 50, cut over towards Minneola, and follow that down to Weeki Watchee. So that was a plan. I asked the kid at the counter where I could pick up 27 and he pointed out the window. The Wendy’s was on 27. Good deal.
So I went north, thinking I was out of the Orlando/Kissimmee/Winter Garden/Pine Hills/Conway mess of houses and strip malls, but I found more of it. On the map it looked like open country, and my map was a Rand McNally 2016 Road Atlas, supposedly up to date. But instead of open Florida, there was a sidewalk running for a good three miles on my right, a sidewalk built where there were no houses, and on my left was one damn little subdivision of one story houses after another. Not that I have anything against subdivisions. Well yeah, I guess I do. I was tired of them.
To make matters worse I never found Route 50. Either it wasn’t marked, or I didn’t see it, but it never showed up. I became disgusted, was sure I’d gone too far, and turned back the way I came. Didn’t see it the second time either. So I continued, went past the Wendy’s and rejoined Interstate 4. Both Rand and McNally, if they are two separate people, blew that one, as did my phone, which proved to be not so smart. I gave up and let the crowded four lane limited access highway with all the traffic take me clear into Tampa where I put my brother in law’s address in my phone and followed it like a lemming to his house. Actually I drove past it once. I think I was looking on the wrong side of the road.
And thus the road trip ended. After all the beauty of the back roads, the honky tonks, the unexpected discoveries, and the characters I encountered; my final day was solitary and dull, pounding it down the interstate like everyone else. I’ll have to discover rural Florida another time.
The trip ended officially when I saw my wife. She was smiling and waving, standing by a carport, showing me where to park. It was good to see her, good to be once again in the company of someone I love, back in the arms of someone who loves me.